A federal report claims that consistent drug shortages in the United States are a threat to patients throughout the country; the dearth of drugs is blamed on the extremely low prices of aging generic medicines, plus a marketplace economy for health care that no longer responds to the law of supply and demand. The FDA report was released on Tuesday.
The Food and Drug Administration created a task force last year from a dozen different federal agencies to look into price fixing and monopolistic practices in the medical and pharmaceutical industries. While there was little substantial evidence pointing in that direction, the task force wants to know why many hospitals refuse to pay better prices for older and more reliable generic drugs for their in-patient and out-patient clients. Newer and pricier drugs are what drives profits for the pharmaceutical industry, while older generic drugs can no longer be patented and don’t bring in as much income for drug companies or hospitals who purchase them and pass the cost on to patients.
The task force concluded that paying more for some older drugs could help improve their availability. They cited the case of vincristine, which is critical for the treatment of children’s cancer. A vial of vincristine now goes for just eight dollars, and since it does not return much of a profit to drug companies it is not kept in stock in high enough quantities to avoid shortages when young cancer patients need it the most.
The FDA says that cancer fighting drugs are not the only ones potentially in short supply in hospitals and clinics. The task force estimates that more than one hundred crucial drugs are in constant short supply. These include such vital drugs as pain relief medications, anesthesia, septic shock counteractives, plus a host of simple medical supplies like common vaccines and bags of saline solution and sterile water.